Art in Motion
Evanna Ramly 
Dr Janaki Rengarajan from the US is one of the best bharatanatyam performers.

Come March 11, Brickfields sets the scene for the Soorya India Festival 2018. Held at the Shantanand Auditorium in the Temple of Fine Arts, expect riveting performances of classical Indian dances from bharatanatyam and kathak to bharatham.

Aimed at intercultural learning and growth while raising funds for charity, this year’s annual event is in aid of Cansurvive Centre Malaysia Bhd, which is a non-profit charity organisation to support cancer patients. Past beneficiaries include the Malaysian Association for the Blind and the Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital as well as various schools.

Jointly organised by Sopaanam Arts, Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan (Aswara), the Indian Cultural Centre as well as Soorya, the Trivandrum-based stage and film society, the festival was initially designed by India’s Soorya Krishnamoorthy.

“He is the founder of the Soorya movement and has been running this programme for the past 40 years,” says festival organiser Dr C.D. Siby, chief ayurvedic physician at Ayur Centre in Petaling Jaya. “In Malaysia, we have been organising it for the past 10 years. Tan Sri L. Krishnan has been our patron from the beginning and has guided us well.”


Beyond borders

With chapters in 36 countries, the vision of Soorya is to ensure that art and culture are integrated between the people of the world. “Art is a medium where you can communicate with the people in a way that they can easily understand. For example, when we have the festival here we always collaborate with local artists while also bringing in international professionals.”

This year, the festival welcomes Dr Janaki Rengarajan from the US, one of the best bharatanatyam performers as well as Rajendra Gangani from India, who is widely considered to be a master of kathak. “Our Malaysian artistes, Mohammad Khairi Mokthar and Ng Xinying, are from Aswara and are also very good bharatanatyam dancers,” he notes.

Siby believes dance is integral to good health

For Siby, the beauty of discovering performers from across the globe is also learning how they worked their way up in life. “If you ask somebody whether they are going to be a classical dancer or singer, the first conclusion that people, parents especially, would jump to is that there is no future in it. It can be a hobby but not a career.”

“When you see these artistes who are legends, you see how they have succeeded, growing with passion and love for the arts. So you will be able to learn this confidence from them, which is important for younger students – and their parents – to know.”


Strength and grace

The training involved is certainly beneficial in many ways. “When you want to learn the arts, you have to be disciplined. Therefore, you will not go down the wrong path. You have to wake up early, go for classes and practise for hours. This will help tune your mind and body, which is vital for optimum health,” he explains.

As a doctor, he is keen on the positive effects of the arts on a performer’s well-being. “Someone who is very cultured and well-mannered is less likely to succumb to drug addiction, alcoholism, depression or anxiety. Their confidence level is good, they can participate in activities and come up with creative moves – it changes a person completely.”

Therein lies what he believes is the most important thing audiences can learn from such a show. He recalls a couple in their late 60s who danced at the festival a few years back.

“The way they danced looked like there was no tiredness. They didn’t even sweat after an hour. How do they maintain that level of stamina and fitness? That’s what we want to learn.”

He is astonished by people who continue to dance into their 80s. “The amazing thing is they don’t have any health issue like diabetes, high cholesterol and heart problems. Dance and music can go deeper into yourself and make a huge difference. The evolution of our thought process can be upgraded this way. Sometimes our attitude makes us averse to change but when we watch a performance or practise for a show, simplicity, humbleness and tolerance are created within, and our stress management improves.”

Personally, Siby looks forward to the eminent Janaki’s performance. “When a student has perfect posture, teachers will compare it to Janaki’s style. She is that famous and exemplary. We’re also trying to organise workshops with her and Rajendra.”

He promises that the audience will be mesmerised by the latter’s movements. “It is a gift to be able to watch these incredible artistes.”

Invitations are available at Saravanabhavan (in Petaling Jaya and Bangsar), Ayur Centre (Petaling Jaya) and Kanna Curry House (Petaling Jaya). For more information, call 011-2755 3976 or 013-385 7955, or visit

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 275.